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Brazil: Ensure Justice in Prison Deaths

Killings Highlight Prisoner Violence in Maranhão State

January 8, 2014

(São Paulo) – The killing of four inmates at the Pedrinhas Prison Complex in Maranhãostate on December 17, 2013 should be thoroughly and effectively investigated and those responsible brought to justice, Human Rights Watch said today.

Fellow prisoners at the Provisional Detention Center of Pedrinhas killed the four men. Video footage posted online by the Folha de São Paulo newspaper on January 7, 2014, shows the remains of the decapitated corpses of three of the victims. A total of 60 inmates were killed in the state in 2013, according to the National Council of Justice (NCJ).

“The grisly crimes caught on camera are part of a broader problem of uncontrolled violence in Maranhão’s prisons,” said Maria Laura Canineu, Brazil director at Human Rights Watch. “The state urgently needs to investigate these crimes, restore order in the prisons, and ensure the inmates’ safety.”

The NCJ visited five Maranhão prisons on December 20 and documented a situation in which criminal gangs control many of the facilities, resulting in what it called the “utter lack of security” for inmates.

Prisons in Maranhão are severely overcrowded. The prison system has room for approximately 3,300 detainees but currently houses 6,200, according to official figures.

On December 27, the Maranhão state military police force took control of six detention centers, including the Pedrinhas prison complex. Criminal gangs in the cities of São Luis and São João de Ribamar subsequently carried out brazen attacks on buses and police stations that left one child dead and many others seriously injured.

Both the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Brazil’s human rights minister, Maria do Rosário, have called on Maranhão authorities to investigate the killings of inmates in the state’s prisons, echoing the requests of the state bar association and local human rights organizations. This week, the federal Justice Ministry announced that it would ensure the transfer of 22 prisoners from Maranhão to federal detention centers.

ENDS

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